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The anatomist’s daughter

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  • From mother to daughter, science is the passion that unites a family
  • An appreciation for nature sparks a lifelong interest in science
  • Parents can interest kids in science by asking questions about their environment

For Rachel Klein, conversations around the dinner table when she was growing up weren’t always easy to understand. Her dad is a science administrator and her mom a professor of anatomy and regenerative biology at The George Washington University (GW).

As they passed the potatoes, Klein’s parents talked about what happened at their workplaces, and it was always very scientific.<strong>Daughter of science. </strong> Once a student of business and politics, Rachel Klein found her passion when she turned to science. Courtesy Rachel Klein.

“I had no idea what they were saying,” says Klein. “For a time, my brother and I were both intimidated by science because we didn’t have a good conception of it.”

According to her mom, Sally Moody, Klein once burst out with a demand that no one mention cloning at the dinner table ever again. But in the years since, she’s had a change of heart.

“I found science through nature,” says Klein. “It’s something I had to come to on my own.”

Nature, the mother of science

After a false start as a business and political science major, Klein fell in love with horticulture through volunteering at a botanical garden to relieve stress, and later, working at a retail greenhouse.

She now manages the Wilbur V. Harlan Research Greenhouse at the GW Department of Biological Sciences, supporting faculty research on plants and insects, particularly those of the Chesapeake Bay.

“Rachel was interested in science programs when she was younger but never really showed this passion for ‘Oh yeah, I want to be a scientist like my parents,’” says Moody. “But it came about as part of her life as she matured and went to college and got really interested in horticulture.”<strong>Nature is the best teacher. </strong> Now manager of the Wilbur V. Harlan Research Greenhouse at The George Washington University, Klein saw her love for science blossom through contact with the natural world. Courtesy Rachel Klein.

Klein credits early years gardening with her mom as the “roots” of her passion. “Mom always approached gardening like she was in the lab,” says Klein. “She knew the names of all the plants, and she had this look in her eye, and she would study them. It was very detail-oriented for her, and that was something I picked up on.”

Nature was also the starting point for Moody’s own career in biology. Her childhood growing up on a dairy farm where she cared for cows and chickens and other animals as well as a garden, honed her appreciation of nature and sparked her lifelong interest in science.

<strong>Mother knows best. </strong> It was through gardening that Sally Moody passed a love of science to her daughter. Courtesy Rachel Klein.“Nature makes you ask questions,” says Klein. “You see things you don’t understand and you start to ask ‘Why is it like that? Why does it grow like that? Why do plants react that way?’ Once you’re out in nature, you can’t help but ask questions about everything you see.”

Future generations

When asked for advice about how today’s parents can pass along a love of science to the next generation, Moody says that questioning your environment is key.

“Just going for a walk in the park in the afternoon and pointing out the trees, the pollution from cars, or trash on the ground,” Moody says. “You can talk about how you need to keep plants alive and about carbon burden.”

Even for those who live in urban areas, the opportunities are rich. “Urban forests are incredibly fragile thanks to their proximity to the city and to traffic, pollution, and human visitors,” says Klein. “But in some ways this makes them one of the most interesting ecosystems to study.”

Cooking is another good way to get kids interested in science, says Moody, and Klein enthusiastically agrees.<strong>Family tradition. </strong> Alarmed by the assault on science, mother and daughter took to the streets of Washington DC at the March for Science. Courtesy Rachel Klein.

“Go to the farmers’ market, get fresh vegetables, and then talk about where your food comes from,” says Moody. “Go to a petting farm and see the animals. Start to look at what’s around you and ask, ‘Why is it this way?’”

Klein credits her early exposure to nature and her mom’s enthusiasm for asking such questions with opening the scientific door.

“Even though science was scary,” says Klein, “once you really start getting into nature — and for me it was plants and plant biology — when it’s something you’re really passionate about and you want to learn more about, then it’s okay.”

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